Sharing Art
Western Reserve Public Media
Watercolor Techniques Project


Regional Artists: Mary Kay D'Isa, Youngstown
Featured Museum: Canton Museum of Art
Featured Artist: Thomas Hart Benton
Featured Work of Art: "Boy Fishing"
Featured Teacher: Nancy Hulea, Canfield Local Schools

Lesson Overview:
Students will experiment with watercolors to produce a representational picture. One of the most popular art media, watercolor takes its name from the liquid that serves as its solvent. Students will learn that watercolors give a transparent quality to paintings with the transparency varying according to the quantity of water that is added to the paint. The project encourages students to explore this versatile medium and a variety of tools and applications.


Video Synopsis

Our watercolor artist, Mary Kay D’Isa, does a tour de force of the techniques and tools used in this approach to painting landscapes. Her tools are a fan brush, palette knife, sponge, plastic wrap, rigger brush and salt. Her techniques include wet-on-wet, color wash, splatter, scratching, sponging and bleeding. For ease of instruction, the school project demonstrates many of the same techniques at a slower pace. 



Students will:

  • identify with a variety of watercolor techniques and the manipulation of materials.

  • create a representational watercolor and apply the given techniques.

  • recognize watercolor as used culturally and historically.

  • evaluate watercolors



  • Transparent

  • Palette knife

  • Middle ground

  • Foreground

  • Background

  • Representational

  • Wet-on-wet

  • Rigger brush



  • 50 sheets of 12" x 18" 140# watercolor paper

  • Boards to stretch watercolor paper (optional)

  • Masking tape

  • Assortment of watercolor brushes

  • Salt

  • Water containers

  • Sponge

  •  Palette knife

  • Plastic wrap

  • Watercolor paint

  • Photographs to use as a reference for painting (optional)




  •  Show the Sharing Art video, “Watercolor Techniques.”

  • Show watercolors that illustrate techniques and transparency of the watercolor process.

  • Demonstrate the fluency and rapid approach to the watercolor process.


Each student will need a 12" x 18" sheet of watercolor paper.

  • If possible have students stretch the watercolor paper, since it is a procedure followed with the watercolor process. Secure the paper to a board with masking tape.

  • With pencil, lightly block off the paper into horizontal thirds. The sections will represent the foreground, middle ground and background.

  • Using the wet-on-wet technique as a wash, paint a sky area in the background (upper third of paper, may extend into middle third).

  • Sprinkle salt in this area.

  • Use fan brush in the middle ground to push in a brushy area or foliage in the distant areas. Stay more toward the middle or the left or right of the paper to leave room for a large tree in the foreground area.

  • Turn paper upside down and use the spatter technique as illustrated in the video.

  • Use palette knife in the brushy area, which will indicate branches.

  • Paint some larger trees in the foreground area as a means of using and illustrating the plastic wrap technique on the trunk, the rigger brush for branches and the sponge technique for foliage (the sponge could also be used to apply texture to some large rocks in the foreground area).

  • Color format may vary, adapting to the change of seasons or overall color theory lesson.


Lower Grade Level Project


Students will:

  • gain knowledge using the medium of watercolor.

  • explore the different ways in which watercolor can be applied.



Using a primary hue of watercolor, draw several shapes on a dry sheet of watercolor paper. Have students experiment with watercolor techniques. Have students label tools used to create the texture. Below are some suggestions. When students are finished, share and compare the results with those of other classmates.

  • Dry brush

  • Wet-on-wet

  • Sponge

  • Splatter with toothbrush or paint brush handle

  • Plastic wrap

  • Scratch with palette knife or paint brush handle

  • Have students experiment and create their own interesting ways of applying the color


Higher Grade Level Project


Students will:

  • demonstrate their understanding of watercolor techniques and processes.

  • create an abstract, monochromatic, nonrepresentational watercolor painting



Ask students to choose a descriptive or expressive word that they would like to paint or illustrate. Choosing a color that would help best illustrate the word, students will use lines, shapes, values and textures in the watercolor medium, demonstrating an advanced understanding of the watercolor techniques and processes learned, while illustrating a painting with expressive understanding of the word they choose.



Students will:

  • create a representational watercolor.

  • illustrate the covered watercolor techniques.

  • critique watercolor using terminology covered in the lesson.